CONYERS - This summer, a few dozen students from Rockdale County and other surrounding areas are learning important lessons that will take them through the rest of their lives.
They are taking driving lessons at the Rockdale Career Academy so they can learn how to properly park, handle certain driving conditions and operate a vehicle on a variety of roadways.
But they also had a chance to hear from somebody who many may think is out to get them - a Rockdale County Sheriff's Office deputy.
But driver education instructor Charlie Bryant, along with the sheriff's office, wants to change their way of thinking.
Every semester driver education is offered, Bryant has a deputy talk to the group of students.
"It's to make sure the kids know someone is looking out for them and so they can see law enforcement as an advocate, not a person who is against them," Bryant said.
RCSO Deputy Rene Shirley spoke to a group of students last week.
"I'm not against them; I'm here to help them," he said.
During the class, Shirley recounted for students incidents from his time on patrol when he came upon traffic accidents or drunken driving-related accidents or gave DUI tests; he wanted to encourage the students to stay away from that type of thinking and influences.
He said a lot of times drivers are arrested for DUI not because an officer will see them swerving all over the highway or because they have had an accident, but because they are stopped for a minor traffic violation.
"It could be anything," he told students. "We run into DUIs all the time on different things."
Those traffic incidents include running red lights or stop signs, idling in the middle of an intersection, nearly causing accidents or speeding.
Shirley warned that anyone under 21 who is pulled over and registers anything on a sobriety test will be in violation of the law.
"For you folks, that's one beer, one shot, one wine cooler, one 5-ounce glass of wine - anything," he said.
Adults generally can handle four beers before they will be charged with a DUI, Shirley said, while commercial
vehicle drivers can receive a DUI after about two beers, since it's a bigger vehicle and requires more responsibility.
Shirley said when an officer suspects a driver of driving under the influence of alcohol, the officer will require the driver to take the test of his own choice - blood, breath or urine - and if the driver requests another type of test, the driver can take that test after he takes the test selected by the officer.
"Some departments say it's a refusal if you don't take the test they choose," Shirley said.
He said those who refuse a field sobriety test completely on a traffic stop will have that used as evidence at trial.
After he told students about some instances of DUIs that didn't result in much damage or injuries, he then discussed a more serious side of drunken driving.
He described how he once he arrived at a single-vehicle accident with three occupants, one man hanging half out the window almost dead.
"There was nothing I could do for him," he said.
Shirley and other bystanders tried to help the other passengers, who were eventually airlifted to a hospital.
It was later ruled a drunken driving accident in which the driver, who was driving on a spare tire, appeared to have attempted to pass another vehicle and lost control, flipping the car several times. All three men were underage with fake IDs on them.
After the class, Shirley said most students learning to drive typically have problems with following too closely, driving too fast for conditions and failure to yield. However, he wanted to warn them against dangers of drinking and driving, and other illegal events, to try to influence them to head in the right direction now and avoid those situations in the future.
"I think most kids want to be good drivers and good citizens; they just sometimes make bad decisions - law enforcement is one slice of the pie in keeping those kids safe," Bryant said.
Michelle Floyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.